By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will yank police officers out of Toledo schools unless the school district pays the city $385,000, he said last night.
“When school lets out in May or June, that’ll be the end of the police in the schools,” the mayor said. “When school starts in September, they won’t be there.”
The mayor’s comments were the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between the cash-strapped city and Toledo Public Schools.
As a keystone of its community policing program, the city’s police department stations an officer in each of Toledo’s high schools and junior highs. The program, begun in 1994 under then Chief Gerald Galvin, has been a resounding success, city and school leaders said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to see this program end,” said Councilman Louis Escobar.
Searching for ways to reduce costs, Mr. Finkbeiner in October sent a terse letter to Merrill Grant, school superintendent, saying that the city no longer is willing to pay for the program. It costs the city about $770,000 a year; he insisted that the school board pay half the amount, or $385,000.
School board President Terry Glazer told city council members yesterday that will not happen.
“We will not pay for the officers,” he said. “It’s part of the city’s community policing program, and I’m not going to take money away from teachers or the classrooms.”
Mr. Glazer said the school board’s budget will be tight in coming years. “Our priority is educating our students, and we’re going to put our resources toward that priority, not performing a basic city function like policing.”
He said city officials should begin looking for outside grants that could pay for the program.
Council members, who are preparing the city’s budget, have begun scrambling to find $385,000 somewhere in the police department’s budget for the program.
Police Chief Michael Navarre said it would be difficult to squeeze the money out of his budget, which is almost entirely personnel costs. Because of collective-bargaining agreements, it could be difficult to adjust those costs without layoffs.
“This could have an impact on whether we have a new police class. I’ll just have to decide the wisest use of the resources I have,” he said. “It’s very dis heartening.”
Mr. Finkbeiner acknowledged the good work the program has done in cutting crime and creating better relations between children and police. But he said in times of tight budgets, even good programs sometimes must face the axe.
The mayor previously said he had no plans to scrap the program.
“I think it’s terribly selfish of Terry Glazer and the Toledo Public Schools board and terribly selfish of Merrill Grant,” the mayor said. “They need to realize the officers are there only out of the generosity of Finkbeiner, Galvin, and Toledo city council.
“As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a program.”
Councilwoman Wilma Brown, who heads the public safety committee, said it doesn’t make sense that he would want to kill a program that is working so well.
“I think there’s enough people on council to save it,” she said. “He’s not going to do it, not if I can help it. I don’t know where we’ll find the money, but we’ll find it.”
The council is expected to approve the city budget at its meeting next Tuesday or March 16, and it has until then to find funding.